Security firm protests hiring of rival by housing authority $2.1 million contract called 'contrary to law'

April 11, 1997|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

Charging a violation of federal conflict-of-interest rules, attorneys for a security guard company filed a formal protest yesterday of the award of a $2.1 million contract by the Baltimore housing authority.

In a four-page letter sent late yesterday to housing authority officials, lawyers for Watkins Security Agency Inc. charged that awarding the one-year contract to Solidarity Security and Investigative Services Inc. was "contrary to law" and should be reversed.

The letter noted that its bid calls for security guards to be paid at $10.21 per hour, while Solidarity's bid calls for a higher $10.35 hourly rate.

Watkins' letter also mentioned apparent links between Solidarity and a city official, 4th District Democratic Councilwoman Agnes B. Welch, and her son, William A. Welch Jr.

Zack Germroth, spokesman for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, acknowledged the protest had been filed and said it was under review. But he also indicated the pending protest would not deter the agency from awarding a contract to the firm rated highest by a selection committee and city Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, who announced the decision last week.

"It's in the best interest of the housing authority to pursue the contract with Solidarity," Germroth said, adding he could not comment on the protest itself, because it was still under review.

Solidarity officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The filing of the protest could be the first step leading to a court challenge to the award.

Citing a federal rule barring the award of a contract to a firm in which a key public official has a financial interest, Watkins' lawyers said Councilwoman Welch had an indirect interest because Solidarity's office was located in a building owned by the Welch family.

Housing authority records list Solidarity's address as 2914 Edmondson Ave. in a building owned by Agnes and William Welch Jr. and a third person.

Watkins officials also noted that William Welch Jr. was listed as an officer of Solidarity in 1996 state licensing records. Welch has told The Sun that he was asked to serve as an officer of the company but decided against it.

The protest also charges that housing officials erred by giving the pact to "a start-up firm with no prior experience."

The protest is the latest complication in efforts to get a private firm to provide round-the-clock security in seven housing authority buildings at Flag House Courts and Murphy Homes.

Two contracts have been canceled, one by the city, the other at the insistence of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Henson announced last week that he and a selection committee had concluded that the Solidarity bid was the best among three finalists for the contract, which carries a one-year renewal option.

Pub Date: 4/11/97

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